What is a Monkey Puzzle Tree?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The monkey puzzle tree is an evergreen conifer native to the highlands of Chile and Argentina. It was originally imported to Europe in the 1800s, and became a popular addition to botanical gardens because of its unusual and distinctive appearance. Because it is an evergreen, the tree is often used as an ornamental, and is also used as a timber resource in addition to providing edible nuts. Since the trees are more valuable alive, the monkey puzzle tree is rarely cut for timber, but when it is harvested, it provides long, straight, close grained timber. Harvesting of the nuts has put survival of the trees at risk in some parts of South America.


While trees vary, the monkey puzzle tree can exceed 131 feet (40 meters) in height. It has triangular-shaped leaves that resemble sharp scales. The small leaves cluster along the branches, making the trees and branches rather difficult to handle without incurring painful injuries. In nature, it prefers high elevations that receive winter snowfall. As the snow gathers on the older low branches, it breaks them off, leaving the tree with a crown of branches at the top and a smooth trunk below. When cultivated, the lower branches are allowed to remain, making the tree much bushier than it is in nature.

Higher elevations are the preferred growing environment for the monkey puzzle tree, which also appreciates temperate climates such as those in areas near the ocean. The plant does well in USDA zones seven and above, and is both frost and drought tolerant. Because of the spiny leaves, the tree may not be the best choice for an intimate garden, but it can make an interesting decorative addition in an area with plenty of space to grow. The edible seeds can be harvested and used like nuts, or used to sprout new trees, which take around 40 years to mature.

The tree's scientific name is Araucaria araucana. When it was first brought to Europe, it was called “Chilean Pine.” The common name appears to have emerged in the 1850s, when contemporaries commented that climbing the tree would puzzle a monkey. In some regions, the native name for the tree is supplanting the former common name, which is why a monkey puzzle tree may be referred to as Pehuen as well.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Where did the monkey puzzle tree get its name (the story of how it got its name) ?


Did you know that it's better to grow male monkey puzzle trees than female monkey puzzle trees?

Though the females can be bigger, they grow cones that can be as big as basketballs, which is all well and good until they start falling, and break off the branches of your monkey puzzle tree.

Also, since the cones are so big, they can actually dent a car or break a window, and can be dangerous to small children playing underneath the tree.

On the upside, the cones do have delicious nutty seeds that are very easy to harvest and are great for snacking.

However, because of the dangers of the cones, and the sheer size that female monkey puzzle trees can reach, most people tend to look for males when they buy a monkey puzzle tree.

Though both are wonderful specimens, most people are simply not equipped to deal with a female monkey puzzle tree in their back yard!


Monkey puzzle trees can be really tricky to grow -- especially if you start all the way from seeds.

One of the most common monkey puzzle tree problems is that of root disruption. They dislike any kind of movement or disruption of their roots, and will often die even from being transplanted. That's why monkey puzzle tree growing can sometimes be hard even if you get a monkey puzzle tree from a nursery.

Many monkey puzzle trees are also sensitive to poor drainage or improper shade conditions, and will shed branches, which is not only unsightly, but a sign of poor health.

So just bear that in mind next time you think about picking up some monkey puzzle tree seeds -- these trees aren't delicate, but they can take a lot of work.


Oh, that's what a monkey puzzle tree is! I had read about monkey puzzle trees for sale in the newspaper last weekend and had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. What a weird tree. Interesting history though, and interesting article.

Thanks for the information, wisegeek.

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